Power Lunches build reading excitement in Twin Cities schools


Power lunches are not just for upper-level business executives in the Twin Cities — they are also for elementary school students in Everybody Wins, a program that pairs students with literacy mentors.

The program, which began in 1996, asks volunteers to come in once a week during their lunch break to read with their student. The pairs are always the same so that the student and volunteer can meet consistently and develop a strong relationship.

In other reading programs, the volunteers are called tutors, but that’s not the case for Everybody Wins where the volunteers are called mentors. “We aren’t teaching [the students] how to read, we want to ignite a passion for reading,” explains executive director Nick Wiebusch.

Everybody Wins serves roughly 1000 students that come from low-income families, where English may be a second language, or where literacy may not be a priority. For students that may not speak English in their homes, meeting with their mentor is a helpful way to see and hear proper English on a regular basis.

The students are placed within classrooms by the school so that everybody in the class can meet with a mentor. Wiebusch said, “When I was a student, if I was pulled out of recess to go do something else, that something else was punishment. But when an entire classroom full of people does something, that’s something we get to do and that’s something that everyone wants to do.”

Benjamin E Mays International Magnet School in St. Paul and Marcy Open in Minneapolis are among the 13 schools in the Twin Cities that participate in the Power Lunch program.

“In order to do anything, you have to read,” said Wiebusch. “Before third grade, students are learning to read. After third grade, students are reading to learn. So if they’re not at a great level by third grade, it becomes increasingly difficult to gain those skills because now they’re trying to do geography and history and those all include reading. If it’s a struggle for them, it’s always a chore and it’s not viewed as a positive thing.”

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.